Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Ideal Stress Free Sustainable Spotless 0 % Balance Transferred Life

Review: The Ideal Home Show 2006, Earls Court.

Since 1908 the Ideal Home show has charted mainstream British taste in houses and interiors. Not much has changed stylistically it seems, but the show has never really embraced architectural notions of progress, either formal or technological. If technology is celebrated here it is in the ability to minutely adjust your armchair or comes hidden in the pre-fabricated panels behind t+g cladding. Here, architecture – to the horror of architects – is no longer about abstract space or challenging geometry but psychological well-being and domestic comfort.

This year’s theme is sustainability and is represented by an enormous fake waterfall. Somewhere nearby lurk Channel 5’s Justin Ryan and Colin McAllister and their spectacular tree house in its “authentic rainforest setting”. Justin and Colin loom large over the show with their brand of metropolitan snobbism and shameless stylistic globe-trotting. Their Asian Influences bedroom (“Hey, even the paint used to decorate the walls is from the Breathe Easy collection by Crown”) typifies the show’s notion of sustainability as mainly to do with celebrating the earthy hues of exotic locales. So, their bedroom also uses “…fabrics woven in the far east by fairly paid workers” as if using fabrics woven in Brentwood by fairly paid workers would be utterly unsustainable.

Away from this billowy rhetoric the exciting action seems to be upstairs at the cheapo end where a furiously competitive market exists for highly toxic cleaning products and futuristic steam irons. Snake oil sellers of a never-to-be-achieved spotless domesticity demonstrate Amazing Pasta Storage Jars, weird robotic hoovers and Magic Saucepans. There’s also some sub Jack Vetriano artworks and vast armies of people selling you Spanish timeshares, botox injections, 0% balance transfers and eye massage glasses. Overall, upstairs as well as down, there is an astonishing number of products related to stress relief and relaxation. Much of the show is taken up by vast and slightly scary looking massage chairs, complete with digital consoles and heat sensors to (supposedly) locate your personal areas of pain and discomfort. Hundreds of jacuzzi’s lined like mother of pearl oysters and festooned with action packed nozzles and rubber water jets, take up much of the other half. What else is there? Well, some fairly anodyne furniture, the occasional bronze leopard or chrome nude, some celebrity chefs and a few bits of interesting new design. It’s not unlike 100% Design, 98% design maybe, but where the innovation is in cleaning products.

Ultimately, the Ideal Home show is about the home as a sanctuary from modern life: a repository for any number of labour saving devices and home spas and ergonomic dining chairs. As Adolf Loos wrote at the beginning of the 20th century, the modern house is a haven from the existentially alienating urban environment. Hence all the massage chairs and fish tanks. Outside, the world is creased, stained and stressful. Inside, all is steam pressed, deep down clean and profoundly relaxing. In its way it’s not that far either from Archigram’s 1960’s dream of the electronic cottage or the well serviced capsule home. It doesn’t look like that for sure – there are no roundy corners or space race styling – but the clapboard covered ideal homes on show are mass-produced, super insulated, custom fitted environments. Relax in your spotless Dyson hoovered Asian Influences front room, set the massage seat to 30 minute Shiatsu, sip some decaffeinated fair trade coffee from your super sized Crazy Frog mug and watch Desperate Housewives on the Plasma screen: the Ideal Life.

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